Exodus 21–24: Law & Covenant

Read the Bible in 2011–2021* ◊ Week 19: Monday

Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”
Exodus 24:7

Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 21–24. Pray and ask God to teach you from His Word, and to give you a greater understanding of His who He is and all He has done for you as you read these wonderful chapters. Yes, these chapters are wonderful. God is meeting with man. Keep reading. In the details of God’s Law you will see God’s holiness and compassion for sinful man in His commands to apply justice and live righteously.

These chapters immediately follow God’s giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. God will give specific commands regarding the Ten Command­ments He has given, and He will make a covenant with Israel.

John Davis gives this summary of Exodus 21–24.

“The material in Exodus we are about to consider is commonly referred to as “the book of the covenant” based on the expression found in 24:7. The book of the covenant is considered to begin at 20:22 and to conclude with chapter 23. These chapters contain a detailed enlargement of the principles contained in the Decalogue [Ten Commandments] and are composed of various civil, social and religious laws. These regulations were quite clearly received by Moses at Mount Sinai probably after the delivery of the Ten Commandments (24:4–7).”1

Davis gives these titles to the laws in these chapters: The Law of the Slave (21:1–11); Laws Relating to Personal Injury (21:12–36); Laws Concerning: Theft (22:1–4), Property Damage (22:5–6), Dishonesty (22:7–15), Immorality (22:16–17, 19); Laws Relating to Civil and Religious Obligations (22:18–23:9); Ceremonial Laws (23:10–19); and Laws Relating to Conquest (23:20–33).2

In Exodus 24:3, Moses recounts to Israel God’s words and ordinances, and the people promise obedience. Then:

Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Exodus 24:4-8

In 2 Samuel 7, God made a covenant with David known as the Davidic Covenant. The covenant made in Exodus 24 is the Mosaic Covenant between God and Israel. In “What Is A Covenant?” Mark Jones writes:

“All true theology is based on some form of a divine covenant. The Christian religion must be understood covenantally, for that is how God has chosen to relate to man, whether in the garden or after the entrance of sin into the world. The goal of all divine–human covenants is summed up in the words found throughout the Bible: “I will be your God and you will be my people, and I will dwell among you” (Ex. 6:7; 29:45; Ezek. 11:20; 2 Cor. 6:16; Rev. 21:3).

“…At its most basic level, a covenant is an oath-bound relationship between two or more parties. Thus, human covenants (for example, marriage) fall under this general definition. In divine covenants, God sovereignly establishes the relationship with His creatures. There are other nuances, but a divine covenant given after the fall is, fundamentally, one in which God binds Himself by His own oath to keep His promises.”3

In “The Mosaic Covenant,” William Barrick explains (I’ve removed the italics and added numbers for easier reading):

“The Mosaic Law is one of six covenants** that God made with Israel, all of which have five concepts in common: (1) their authority resides in God, (2) they were all given in a day of crisis, (3) no covenant nullifies a previous one, (4) salvation from sin is not obtained by keeping any covenant, and (5) significant negative events followed the instigation of each. The theological context of the Mosaic Covenant is Israel’s election by grace and the redemptive context of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt…The covenant was the most conditional of all the covenants, and like all the covenants, it promised blessings for obedience and curses for dis­obedience. The covenant addressed itself to Israel and Israel alone, with its divinely authoritative rules that stipulated standards of righteousness. No one can justly separate the moral, civil, and ceremonial parts of the Law from each other, as many have attempted to; the law is a unit. The Law has no authority over Christians because it has been fulfilled by the death of Christ.”4

Barrick stresses its importance:

“Divine revelation is saturated with pertinent theological pericopes. The pericope containing the Mosaic Covenant is an important OT passage. Exodus 19–24 had a significant impact on the writers of both the OT and NT:

“There is no way to describe adequately the canonical implications of Exodus 19–24. Everyone from Moses (Deut 5:6–21), to Jeremiah (Jer 7:1–15), to Jesus (Matt 5–7), to Peter (1 Pet 2:9), and every other biblical writer who has anything to say about covenant, morality and relationship to God reflects directly or indirectly on this passage.”

“Theologian and preacher alike should not neglect the study and proclamation of God’s revelation in the Mosaic Covenant. It is part and parcel of “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).”5

You may be wondering how the Mosaic Covenant with its laws fits in with grace and salvation. A Ligonier Ministries article also titled, “The Mosaic Covenant,” states:

“But the Lord never meant for the Israelites to think that they could fulfill the covenant and keep His law with the perfection He demands for justification. The very existence of the sacrificial system, for example, presupposes that they would not. In fact, the sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant are a testimony to its being part of the one covenant of grace, added to show people their transgression and to cultivate the hope of a Messiah who would offer the final sacrifice for sin.”6

When my pastor, Mike Braun, was teaching through Exodus, he said the Law is the eternal moral requirements of God. It is binding on His people, it is love, and we are to revere it because it is good. He also spoke of how the Law operates:

By it all moral actions are judged. Romans 2:13-16; 1 John 3:4.

It reveals sin’s heart: Romans 7:7, 14–17; 1 Timothy 1:9.

It condemns. It is not able to change us: Galatians 3:21; Romans 8:3–4.

It brings us through repentance to Christ: Galatians 3:24; Romans 10:4, 3:19–22, 31.

The answer to Paul’s cry of in Romans 7, Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? is Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

When I was in college our Christian students’ group frequently sang the hymn, “We come, O Christ to Thee,”7 by Margaret Clarkson. The first two stanzas are:

We come, O Christ to Thee,
True Son of God and man,
By whom all things consist,
In whom all life began:
In Thee alone we live and move
And have our being in Thy love.

Thou art the Way to God,
Thy blood our ransom paid;
In Thee we face our Judge
And Maker unafraid.
Before the Throne absolved we stand:
Thy love has met Thy law’s demand.

I thank God from the heart that through His Son, His love met His law’s demand!


Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications. (Site has been deleted since posting).
Sunrise on Mount Sinai: Mabdalla. Public domain.
1,2John J. Davis, “The Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21–24),” Moses and the Gods of Egypt: Studies in Exodus, second ed. (BMH Books, Winona Lake IN: 1971, 1986) 226, 227–247.
3What Is a Covenant?” Copyright 2014 by Mark Jones, Ligonier Ministries.
4,5William Barrick, “The Mosaic Covenant,” The Master’s Seminary Journal, Volume 10, Number 2 (Fall 1999). His quote is from Paul R. House, Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1998), 117. “Paul House’s declaration is seconded by William Bellshaw and William Dumbrell in their respective works on biblical covenants.”
**See the article by Mark Jones for a list of covenants. For the covenant he says is made with Christ he refers to Hebrews 8–9. This covenant with Christ is given in the Old Testament where it is referred to as the New Covenant. If you go to Hebrews 8, you will see quotes from several passages in the Old Testament, beginning with Jeremiah 31:31–32.
6The Mosaic Covenant,” Copyright 2014, Ligonier Ministries.
7Margaret Clarkson “We come O Christ to Thee,” hymns: The hymnal of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, compiled and edited by Paul Beckwith. (Inter-Varsity Press, Chicago: 1952) Hymn 49. Video here with lightly revised lyrics.

*In 2011 I started a year-long series of posts, “Read the Bible in 2011.” You can find the other posts in the navigation menu in the header. If a day doesn’t have a link to a post, the post was simply a brief reminder about the reading. I’m filling in some of those gaps with new posts with “Read the Bible in 2011 Redux” as a category.

Copyright ©2011–2021 Iwana Carpenter

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